Setting Goals

A challenge with many part-time athletes, especially ‘type A’ go-getter masters athletes who charge 100% of the time with 100% effort in all areas of their life is overestimating their availability and their ability to put in actual training hours.

When goal setting is the starting point – as opposed to taking an inventory of life with actual training/rest hours clarified – goals are developed in a frame of mind where there is endless opportunity to train and recover, challenges do not occur therefore why allocate any resources to the mere potential of them arising, and setbacks are imaginary boogie monsters used to scared bad little athletes to being good.

Dreams are supposed to arise from our imagination, but goal setting which occurs without context rarely ends with a fairy-tale ending….

At the start of the season, when full of energy, fresh, motivated and prior to any setbacks or obstacles, training goes smoothly and goals seem close at hand.  We daydream how it will only take a month or two to be back in form, ready to challenge last years hardest sessions.  As the season progresses, as training sessions are shelved due to demands from work, kids, illness, and all sorts of emergencies, goals change from a motivational source of energy, to a weight which drags, burdens, draining what little energy is left at the end of the day.  At the start of the season the goals which felt close at hand, now fall just beyond the reach of our fingertips.  It takes only a few weeks of reduced training due to travel for work, a ‘C’ race which doesn’t go as planned, or a nagging cold which hangs every day to sow seeds of doubt, diminishing the excitement and enthusiasm that met each day early in the season.

When the competitive season finally arrives, our ‘A’ race is weeks or days away, with our entry fee paid and registration completed long ago, the obligation to race remains, but goals have now become reminders of what was not accomplished.  Anger builds at all the things that got in the way of our goals, blame is pointed at this and that, we become frustrated at ourselves for setting any goals… how foolish to set any goals we exclaim exasperated, guilt rises that there is expectation that we must show up on race day knowing that finishing may now be the only target.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus

Is it any wonder that masters athletes fall out of love with a sport that once captured their imagination?  Should it really be surprising that what once was a love affair is now a dreaded relationship?  The TT bike and trainer in the basement, the pile of running shoes by the side door, the bag of swim toys occupying space in the trunk of the car… all reminders of the dreams we preoccupied ourselves with at one point, and the joy they recreated of endless possibilities.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  None of it is necessary, but every year athletes torture themselves with unrealistic goal setting.  Why do we do it, year after year?

I believe there are two primary causes, each easily solved with a bit of work and honesty:

  1. Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of time they can anticipate having to train and recover, with ALL their personal and professional and life responsibilities included, PLUS additional slack added to provide for emergencies, vacations, and those days when you do not want to be accountable to anyone wanting anything.
  2. Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of their actual athletic starting point: where are they today in regards to flexibility, skill level, technique, aerobic conditioning, years of base training, risk of injury/illness.

Problem #1

Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of time anticipate being able to train and recover as if it takes no time at all, able to squeeze it in along with all their personal and professional and life responsibilities included.

Solution #1

We all start each day with the circle on the left: 24 hrs.  We each have decided to fill that circle ourselves.  Our past decisions now yield our current state of health, conditioning, flexibility, our physical attributes in terms of skill and technique, body weight, mental and emotional narratives, outlook, attitude and perspective on what is possible and what is probable.  Today we have the opportunity to change how we spend those 24 hrs impacting our future state of health, conditioning, flexibility and so on.

We cannot start goal setting for athletic endeavours without respecting all the other goals we have already established, and have committed energy, effort and time.  If we do, then we set ourselves up to fail before we even begin, as relationships, career, and all other responsibilities will at some point compete for the exact same minutes and hours we want to train.

To start goal setting, start with listing all your goals…  (see circle on the right)

Ideal vs Actual Training Time

You will likely end up with a list such as this, where: (A) is spousal relationship, (B) parental responsibilities, (C) career/profession, (D) financial obligations, (E) weekly to-do list (e.g. cut grass, car oil change, pick up drycleaning,…), (F) family vacation time, (G) professional development hours, (H) caregiver time to parents (e.g. driving parents to medical appointments), (I) and so on.

Once you have honestly captured that which you have already committed to, then you are in a position to identify the hours each day and each week you have available to committing to a new goal, your athletic goals.

It is not advisable to pack all 24 hrs a day and all 7 days a week to the rafters with commitments.  Doing so is disastrous to goals, and it is another way to blow up both yourself, your schedule and all of your goals… and pretty much your life in general.  Give yourself a bit of slack, wedge in wiggle room so that goals are not packed one on top of the other.

Once completed, you will immediately come to terms with what is a reasonable and what isn’t a reasonable goal for training.  If all you have is 10 hrs a week to train, then it becomes apparent that committing to an Iron distance event is not only unrealistic, it can even be anticipated that you will not arrive in one piece at the event.  Imagine then if you added the additional expectation of a personal best, or a top spot in age group on top of an already unreasonable goal.   Yet we do it.  Year after year.

Why not set yourself up to win?  An honest appraisal of your life will position you to fulfill your goals.  Besides, if the underlying goal to training is to end up fit and healthy, then why make the process onerous, torturous, depressing, unmotivating, uninspiring, all while risking injury, illness, and burn out?  It takes a bit of self-respect to not over commit, especially if everyone else in your training group is setting out to conquer a new distance, a new challenge; but in the end, you are accountable only to yourself, not to everyone else.

There is a balance point to life, a rhythm, a speed, and if you take the time to find it for your life, then you will spend more days in that sweet spot of flowing, enjoying yourself, enjoying life as opposed to running obligation to obligation, dreading that you woke up.

Problem #2

Athletes goal set without taking an honest inventory of their actual athletic starting point: flexibility, skill level, technique, aerobic conditioning, years of base training, risk of injury/illness.

Solution #2

Unlike everyone’s day which is made up of 24 hrs, everyone’s body is different, everyone’s training and racing experience is different. And, the years since being at our peak physiological point of age (in early 20s), have for some us taken quite a toll on our health.

To set yourself up to win when there is a fixed time line between today and tomorrow’s goal, requires being honest with your starting point. Starting from an honest starting point will yield results. Starting from a delusional “I’m still as health and fit as I was at 25” will end badly, no two ways about it.

Setting yourself up to win requires taking an honest inventory of what you have to work with today, and starting right. Sounds simple, few take the time to do it, and fewer take the time to do it right.

Want to achieve your goals healthfully, then find a coach who has the experience of walking athletes through all these steps and who has a history of delivering results without compromising on their athlete’s health by delivering injury & illness instead.